One of the best things about Europe are the many public spaces that adorn its cities and towns. From the main squares of small villages to the vast plazas found in the capitals, these are gathering places where the local population — and whoever else may be passing through — head to for a variety of reasons. Central squares often contain the most important buildings in the municipality, such as the town or city hall, church, and so forth, thus serving a socio-political function; nowadays such squares are often commercial hubs containing high-profile stores and enormous billboard advertisements. It comes as no surprise, though, that Madrid is no different from other European cities in this regard, boasting its own central square: the emblematic Puerta del Sol.
History and buildings
As its name indicates, the Puerta del Sol was in fact originally a gate in the wall that surrounded Madrid several centuries ago. It was given the name sol or ‘sun’ most likely due to the fact that it faced East, a naming custom which was typical during that period. At this time the gate was not a proper plaza, but still served as a meeting place for the city’s inhabitants. Eventually, in the mid-19th century, the area was expanded to its current size.
The main building which crowns the Puerta del Sol is the Real Casa de Correos, built in the latter half of the 18th century. Despite its name, the structure currently houses the Community of Madrid’s regional government, and does not serve as the city’s headquarters, which are located in the former Palacio de las Comunicaciones in Cibeles. In front of the Casa lies a plaque denominating Sol as Kilómetro Cero, or the geographical center of all the major highways in the country. Also, the building’s clock tower serves as the focal point during New Year’s Eve celebrations, when the masses gather in the plaza to ring in the New Year.
Most of the other buildings surrounding the Puerta del Sol are commercial establishments at the ground level, the most classic of which is a pastry shop known as La Mallorquina. Founded over a hundred years ago, this shop is famous all throughout the capital due to its prime location and tasty treats. The newest addition to the plaza is the Apple Store which just recently opened. Although there were already a few locations in shopping malls in the suburbs surrounding the city, Apple has now brought their retail empire to the center of Madrid for all to partake.
Monuments in Puerta del Sol
Beyond buildings, there are several monuments which adorn the Puerta del Sol, one of the most emblematic of which is the Oso y Madroño, a statue depicting a bear reaching up to eat the fruit from a strawberry tree. After having been moved several times, the monument now lies at the mouth of Calle Alcalá and serves as a reference point for people to meet before going out for a night on the town. The other famous monument in the plaza is the equestrian statue of Carlos III, who was the king of Spain during the second half of the 18th century. A well-liked monarch, he is considered by many to be the ‘best mayor’ Madrid has ever had due to the improvements he was responsible for making to the city.
Though, not a monument, perhaps the most emblematic element of the Puerta del Sol is the Tío Pepe sign that sits on the roof of one of the buildings. The only remaining advertisement from another time, this sign has stood the test of time and grown to become associated with the plaza just as much as anything else. Despite it being removed several years ago due to the opening of the Apple Store, this year the Tío Pepe sign once again reigns over the square, albeit from another rooftop.
See you at the bear!
The Puerta del Sol is the thriving social center of Spain’s capital. On any given day you can see people of all walks of life crossing it, both locals, other Spaniards, and foreigners alike from all over the world. Once you make it to Madrid, you’ll have to make it one of your first stops. ¡Nos vemos en el Oso!